ST. GEORGE Attorneys for Warren Jeffs argued against a proposed mistrial in the polygamist-sect leader's recent conviction of rape as an accomplice, it was revealed in documents unsealed by a district judge in St. George on Tuesday.
Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap sought the mistrial after it was learned one of the jurors had been sexually assaulted as a young girl and failed to reveal that information during the jury selection process.
The incident came to light during jury deliberations and was reported to 5th District Court Judge James Shumate by another juror. Belnap cited two sections of Utah law that deal with prejudicial jury conduct or false statements of a juror.
"If there is a conviction, the state will not have a fair trial because the Supreme Court will likely order reversible error based upon it," Belnap told Shumate during the closed hearing in the judge's chambers. "If there is an acquittal, the state will have no remedies whatsoever. That injustice to the state in this case is such that a mistrial is appropriate under the law and under the circumstances."
Shumate denied the motion for a mistrial after Jeffs' defense team argued in favor of continuing deliberations with an alternate juror.
"We want this jury to decide this case," Jeffs' attorney, Wally Bugden, is quoted as saying in the unsealed court transcript. "And we believe you can give the jury an instruction to disregard and to begin resuming, commence their deliberations."
Shumate interviewed all four alternate jurors before selecting one to sit on the jury. Less than three hours later, the jury returned a guilty verdict.
Defense attorneys now are seeking a new trial, saying only that unspecified "errors and improprieties" occurred during the September trial.
Shumate will hear arguments on the motion March 6 in St. George.
Belnap notes in his opposition to a new trial that Jeffs' attorneys resisted a mistrial.
"The defendant's lawyers encouraged the court to do exactly what they now claim is error," Belnap writes. "The Utah Supreme Court has repeatedly held that a party cannot take advantage of an error committed at trial when that party led the trial court into committing the error."
Jeffs, 52, was convicted of two counts of first-degree felony rape as an accomplice for his role in conducting a marriage between an unwilling 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. Jeffs is serving two consecutive terms of five years to life in the Utah State Prison.The documents were unsealed following a request by Salt Lake City attorney Jeffrey Hunt, who represents the Deseret Morning News and other Utah media.